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Bigbypic2 By Dr. JudyAnn Bigby

This week a Boston Globe editorial urged readers not to lose sight of the need for electronic medical records, despite the recent demise of Google Health. The editorial noted that lack of consumer interest in the service as the reason Google Health failed.

There is growing momentum in Massachusetts and other states to migrate to a system of electronic health records. In February 2010, Massachusetts was awarded $24 million to develop a Regional Extension Center, designed to assist 2,500 priority primary care physicians to achieve ‘meaningful use’ of electronic health records and create a statewide Health Information Exchange. The exchange will ensure that clinical information is secure and accessible to providers and consumers.   In addition to offering financial assistance to physicians, Massachusetts also passed legislation requiring the adoption of EHRs by 2015 for all hospitals, health centers and physicians.

Massachusetts is also fortunate to be home to some of the world’s most advanced technology companies including those specializing in electronic health records.  Many of these companies and businesses participated in Governor Patrick’s second annual health information technology conference earlier this year.  Creating public/private partnerships is essential to a thorough migration to EHRs.

One of the keys to reigning in skyrocketing health care costs that continue to threaten the state’s economy, impede the ability for small businesses to create jobs and burden families, is to find innovative ways to change the existing model and tackle persistent costs. Electronic health records can play a significant role in reducing healthcare costs; migration to a universally electronic environment would also stimulate job growth.

While there have been challenges to the migration toward, and maintenance of, EHRs – witness Beth Israel Hospital’s recent security breach where more than 2,000 patient records may have been compromised (see Boston Globe story here) — this transformative technology is critical to helping providers reduce paperwork, improve accuracy, and spend more time with patients. It’s essential that we update management of our health care system so it is aligned with the 21st century. Being able to coordinate services through electronic management and exchange of information would mean an ability to provide better care for patients and ultimately, lower costs to consumers for quality care.

Individuals with meaningful access to their personal health records will be better participants in decisions about their care. Personal health records must be accessible, understandable and easy to maintain and keep current. They also must remain private and secure. The demise of Google Health should not deter migration to electronic health records; it just means we need to keep trying until we get it right.

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